Transitioning from Pilot to Operational under Stewardship by American Forest Foundation

U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Greenville, SC

For IMMEDIATE RELEASE (April 25, 2019) The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (Endowment) today announced that it would soon begin a long-planned transition of its highly-successful Sustainable Forestry and African-American Land Retention (SFLR) program to the American Forest Foundation (AFF). Launched in 2012 as a partnership between the Endowment, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and USDA Forest Service (USFS), SFLR has yielded significant results in helping to stem land loss, increase forest health, and build financial assets in the African-American landowner community across the southeastern U.S.  

The program’s successful work across seven – soon to be eight – states was founded on the great work of African-American-led community-based organizations with strong connections to minority families and institutions. These organizations built relationships of trust, assisted and educated landowners about opportunities, brokered forestry services, and monitored landowner progress toward sustainable forest management. Their work has helped minority forest owners not only retain their land but also become advocates for working forests to their neighbors.

As a catalytic organization – one that helps study and test solutions to needs in the forest sector – rather than an operating foundation that manages programs over the long-term, the Endowment has from the outset planned for SFLR to ultimately be nested within an organization that shared the vision and had alignment and ability to provide on-going program leadership and stewardship.  As part of this growth and to ensure a smooth transition, the seven grassroots organizations that are leading the work on the ground have formed a management network in collaboration with the Endowment, AFF, agency partners, and other philanthropic and industrial partners to take the program to the next level.

“Nothing gives our team more satisfaction than seeing that one of our collaborative efforts has achieved the power of the original vision and reached the point that it can be transitioned from a pilot to a vibrant, self-sustaining program,” said Carlton Owen, President and CEO of the Endowment. “The success of SFLR to date is indicative of the vision and commitment to overcome and reverse decades of exclusion that have left African-American forest landowners at high risk of losing their land while at the same time preventing them from seeing the power of that asset to benefit their families economically.”

Tom Martin, President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation shared, “Sustainable forestry provides a way for African-American landowners, many of whom have owned their land for generations, to maintain their deep ties with the land while at the same time deriving income from it and keeping it in the family for generations to come. AFF is honored and excited to be part of the next chapter of SFLR’s growth and success.”

“Often black landowners aren’t quite sure how to manage their land or deal with heirs’ property issues (lands pass down without a will and/or clear title). Our work through SFLR has helped Georgia landowners with land retention, forest protection and preservation, owners’ stewardship plans, timber harvesting, estate resolution, wildlife management, and soil conservation,” said John Littles, Executive Director of McIntosh Sustainable Environment and Economic Development (McIntosh SEED) and one of the SFLR leadership team members. “The best thing about this program is that it grows itself: once landowners see the value in participating, they share the news with their friends and neighbors.”

As of December 31, 2018, 1,076 black families collectively owning 77,095 acres were enrolled in SFLR programs across seven states.  These landowners receive services to restore forest health, resolve land tenure issues and threats, and sustainably build land-based family wealth. As part of the AFF family, the SFLR program will build on its strong foundation, reaching more landowners for continued growth and success as we all work to diversify the ranks and extend the benefits of forest stewardship to more American families of all creeds and colors.

Over the past year two major foundations have joined in funding SFLR’s on-the-ground partners – North Carolina-based Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and effective on May 1, The JPB Foundation.  Alicia Cramer, the Endowment’s Senior Vice President who oversees SFLR noted, “We couldn’t be more thankful for these new funders who’ve joined the ranks of those who share a common vision of helping minority landowners achieve their land retention and stewardship goals.  With their support along with that of our federal, state, and local partners, and under AFF’s capable leadership, SFLR is well positioned for continued success.”

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The American Forest Foundation (AFF), a forest conservation organization, focuses on family forest owners, providing resources that support good stewardship through outreach, advocacy and its nationwide network of landowners and partners. Working with families, partners and elected officials, AFF promotes stewardship to keep forests healthy and producing clean water and air, wildlife habitat and sustainable wood supplies. AFF’s signature program, the American Tree Farm System® is the country’s largest sustainable woodland program with a network of 71,000 family forest owners managing 19 million acres of forestland.

The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (the Endowment) is a not-for-profit public charity working collaboratively with partners in the public and private sectors to advance systemic, transformative, and sustainable change for the health and vitality of the nation’s working forests and forest-reliant communities.

For more information contact:
Carlton N. Owen
, President & CEO, 864-233-7646,

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